Stewart v. Commissioner of Social Security
DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) AFFIRMING THE ALJS NON-DISABILITY FINDING AS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; AND (2) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE DOCKET. Signed by Magistrate Judge Michael J. Newman on 8/24/17. (pb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
WESTERN DIVISION AT DAYTON
MELISSA A. STEWART,
Case No. 3:16-cv-400
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
Magistrate Judge Michael J. Newman
DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) AFFIRMING THE ALJ’S NON-DISABILITY FINDING
AS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; AND (2) TERMINATING THIS
CASE ON THE DOCKET
This Social Security disability benefits appeal is before the undersigned for disposition
based upon the parties’ full consent. Doc. 6. At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and therefore unentitled to Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) and/or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).1 This case is before the Court
on Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors (doc. 9), the Commissioner’s memorandum in opposition (doc.
10), the administrative record (doc. 4),2 and the record as a whole.
Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of August 21, 2010.
PageID 294-303. Plaintiff claims disability as a result of a number of alleged impairments
“The Commissioner’s regulations governing the evaluation of disability for DIB and SSI are
identical . . . and are found at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, and 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 respectively.” Colvin v.
Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). Citations in this Decision and Entry to DIB regulations are
made with full knowledge of the corresponding SSI regulations, and vice versa.
Hereafter, citations to the electronically-filed administrative record will refer only to the
including, inter alia, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), atrial
fibrillation, obesity, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. PageID 38.
After an initial denial of her applications, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Mark
Hockensmith on July 23, 2015. PageID 57-126. The ALJ issued a written decision on August
11, 2015 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 35-51. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five
that, based upon Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of
sedentary work,3 “there are jobs in that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
[Plaintiff] can perform[.]” PageID 40-51.
Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s
non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 25-29. See
Casey v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff then
filed this timely appeal. Cook v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 435 (6th Cir. 2007).
Evidence of Record
The evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ’s decision (PageID 37-51),
Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors (doc. 9) and the Commissioner’s memorandum in opposition (doc.
10). The undersigned incorporates all of the foregoing and sets forth the facts relevant to this
Standard of Review
The Court’s inquiry on a Social Security appeal is to determine (1) whether the ALJ’s
non-disability finding is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ALJ employed
The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) classifies jobs as sedentary, light, medium, heavy,
and very heavy depending on the physical exertion requirements. Sedentary work “involves lifting no
more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and
small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of
walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties.” Id. § 404.1587(a).
the correct legal criteria. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Bowen v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 74546 (6th Cir. 2007). In performing this review, the Court must consider the record as a whole.
Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). When
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s denial of benefits, that finding must be affirmed, even if
substantial evidence also exists in the record upon which the ALJ could have found Plaintiff
disabled. Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Thus, the ALJ has a “‘zone of
choice’ within which he [or she] can act without the fear of court interference.” Id. at 773.
The second judicial inquiry -- reviewing the correctness of the ALJ’s legal analysis -may result in reversal even if the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence in the
record. Rabbers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009). “[A] decision of the
Commissioner will not be upheld where the [Social Security Administration] fails to follow its
own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant
of a substantial right.” Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746.
To be eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must be under a “disability” as defined
by the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Narrowed to its statutory meaning, a
“disability” includes physical and/or mental impairments that are both “medically determinable”
and severe enough to prevent a claimant from (1) performing his or her past job and (2) engaging
in “substantial gainful activity” that is available in the regional or national economies. Id.
Administrative regulations require a five-step sequential evaluation for disability
determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Although a dispositive finding at any step ends the
ALJ’s review, see Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007), the complete sequential
review poses five questions:
Has the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
Does the claimant suffer from one or more severe impairments?
Do the claimant’s severe impairments, alone or in combination, meet or
equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner’s Listing
of Impairments (the “Listings”), 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1?
Considering the claimant’s RFC, can he or she perform his or her past
Assuming the claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant
work -- and also considering the claimant’s age, education, past work
experience, and RFC -- do significant numbers of other jobs exist in the
national economy which the claimant can perform?
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Miller v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 181 F. Supp.2d 816, 818
(S.D. Ohio 2001). A claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing disability under the
Social Security Act. Key v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 109 F.3d 270, 274 (6th Cir. 1997).
In her Statement of Errors, Plaintiff argues that, in light of her testimony regarding
fatigue arising from her impairments, the ALJ erred by not including a limitation regarding
absenteeism in the RFC determination. Doc. 9 at PageID 1139-41. Having carefully reviewed
the administrative record and the parties’ briefs, and also having carefully considered the ALJ’s
analysis leading to the non-disability finding here at issue, the Court finds the ALJ carefully and
reasonably developed and reviewed the record; appropriately considered the medical evidence at
issue; properly weighed opinion evidence based upon reasons supported by substantial evidence;
reasonably assessed Plaintiff’s credibility; accurately determined Plaintiff’s RFC; and
appropriately determined that Plaintiff can perform a significant number of jobs in the national
Accordingly, the Court AFFIRMS the ALJ’s non-disability finding as supported by
substantial evidence and TERMINATES this case on the Court’s docket.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
August 24, 2017
s/ Michael J. Newman
Michael J. Newman
United States Magistrate Judge
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